I’m not a collector. I keep telling myself this out loud and in my head so I think I’m well into the denial stage.
My shelves of board games are steadily growing. It started out as picking up a copy of something fun I’d already tried and wanted to play with my friends. It transitioned into seeking out new games that we hadn’t ever seen before. This gradually transitioned into a much more broad quest to find all sorts of new and interesting boxes filled with colourful cardboard squares, containing a small paper booklet telling you what to do with those squares.
So Middle Earth Quest is probably the most interesting and uncommon game I’ve gotten my hands on so far. Those are words a collector would say, but stick with me, I think I can convince us both that I’m not that person.
If you do a quick amazon search for the game, you’ll notice copies of it (new in box, at least) go for around 300 CAD right now. Tracking down used copies can still go for anywhere from 60-100 CAD. That’s pretty much what it would have gone for at retail when it was out, but used copies will have wear, pieces missing, and most importantly, nothing is wrapped up, so the delicious feeling of ceremonially unboxing a new toy is sort of lost.
All this is pretty nitpicky and anyone desperate to have it could just get a used copy and play the damn game. That’s just not me, so I was holding out to try and find a new in box copy of it that was a bit more affordable, as much of a pipe dream as that was.
But then I found one. Sold by an independent seller. I don’t think they knew what they had. Perhaps they’d be upset now if they’ve found out. Hopefully sweet ignorance will keep its hold on them and they’ll enjoy their money.
But I got a copy of it, all wrapped up. And all I could think about was where and with whom I wanted to be when I ripped the packaging from this box and devalued it by 200+ dollars in one fell swoop.
It turns out I couldn’t wait too long. I was waiting in the airport for some of my friends when I took the wrapping off to check out the box contents. My girlfriend and I punched out all the tokens and cards a few days later. I closed my eyes and imagined all the money flying out the window.
Not with any sort of apprehension at all – with pure glee. This was a really special thing I’d managed to get my hands on, a relic of sorts. And I knew I didn’t want to just lock it away and preserve it in a sealed case, protected from the world, keeping it intact as long as the world would allow it. I wanted to shred into it greedily and enjoy it in the moment, and when it’s unplayable and beyond repair, I won’t mourn for it and curse my frivolity. I’ll remember how fucking awesome it was.
I get waves of giddy excitement when we crack into this thing. I can’t wait to overplay it to death.
Here it is all laid out.
The game takes places in the 17 years between Bilbo’s adventure in the Hobbit, and Frodo’s journey with the ring in the main LotR trilogy. In it, these original hero characters are fighting to stop the rise of Sauron, hold back the spread of evil long enough for Gandalf to make it to the Shire and basically begin the first book. If Sauron wins, it’s a canon-breaking event in which he locates and takes the ring from the Shire before it can leave. If the heroes hold him off long enough, the canon ending triggers and Sauron’s wraiths make it to the Shire just a hair too late and the books continue on uninterrupted.
A great premise and an even better way for real fans of the books to just immerse themselves headfirst into a giant cardboard representation of their world. And big it is – there are beautiful tableaus of cards laid out in different parts of the board illustrating Sauron’s grand plots and how the heroes can unravel them. They list the location of all the main characters that show up in the story and what they’re up to. There are nine god damn separate decks of cards that just act as worldbuilding, with random events as the heroes explore and world-changing plots that add new quests to solve. The world is huge and rich and full of things to discover, and everything is canon. As a storytelling device it works incredibly well.
And on I could go. Actually, fine, one last thing – from a design perspective it’s a marvelous representation of asymmetrical design. The heroes and the Sauron player are busy playing entirely separate games. The heroes are trying to finish quests and delay the progress of evil plots by traveling around the map, deckbuilding a bit and collecting items. Sauron is playing his own eurogame where he spreads corruption to block their progress and place appropriate monsters and villains in their way, and to trigger new plot points on his tower. They’re intricately linked but what the players actually do are completely different.
It is pretty difficult for Sauron to win, which is quite okay with me as I play this as though I’m the DM for an RPG. I have heard that playing against less heroes gives him a bit more of a chance, so maybe I should give that a shot.
I’ll have time. I’ll play this game into its grave. It’s worth it.
PS. If you want to play it… I mean. Either come hang out with me sometime, or just be like me and patiently wait for someone to not realize the awesome thing they’ve got.
Or, just buy a used copy of it like a normal person.